the black watch | The gospel according to john | the eskimo record label | april 21st, 2017
How does one definitively describe John Andrew Fredrick, this guy that has been making music, writing books, professionally professing about both (that’s what professors do?), and generally being a ceaseless creative entity forever?
Despite all of Fredrick’s quixotic threats to quit releasing music and concentrate on his other careers and hobbies (Dr. Fredrick holds a Ph.D, plays tennis or ping-pong five days a week, and paints), the guitar-driven songs just keep coming, like they have since Fredrick spent a year in bed at the age of 11, recovering from a badly broken leg, with nothing but a Silvertone acoustic guitar, and later that year, his life-long love, “The White Album,” to keep him company.
But, let’s go ahead and pop the bubble on this cloyingly corny (though stunningly true) tale and spill some tea:
“I keep writing because I am so bored with people -- and so in love with a handful of them,” Fredrick confesses. Perhaps this state is a symptom of 25 years of Los Angeles-living? “My kid who lives in New York really believes that Los Angeles is toxic, and conducive to advanced misanthropy,” Fredrick jokes.
Nevertheless, songs and riffs and lyrics keep wandering into Fredrick’s head as he’s traversing the city’s infamous traffic to California Lutheran University, forty-five miles north of Los Angeles, where he lectures in the English department. The latest collection of wandering riffs and lyrics by the black watch, the latest in a line so long it’s like thepainful reveal of an over-the-hill age (except this number represents an actual accomplishment), is Christened (emphasis on Christ) with a title wholly (holy) befitting Fredrick’s sense of humor and sense of artistic entitlement.
Put the puns away, it’s The Gospel According To John.
The new album, arriving April 21st, 2017, is the band’s 15th in 30 years of music-making (leaving out EPs, singles, wax cylinders), a pretty impressive feat, especially for a band that has “put the frosting,” as Fredrick puts it sweet, on its career more than once.
“Should’ve become a household name a long time ago,” said USA Today. “A national treasure,” said L.A. Weekly.
“We’d be lying if we said we didn’t care that after all this time we’re still a total cult band,” says Fredrick. “It’s a motif now: ‘Why isn’t this band better known?’ We really don’t care. Some bands were meant to be cultishly cultish.”
The Gospel According To John follows-up 2015’s Highs & Lows, and was recorded over the course of eleven months with Rob Campanella of The Brian Jonestown Massacre producing. It is a decidedly guitar-driven record, even for a guitar-driven group, due to the work of Andy Creighton (on loan from his fine band The World Record.)
“We’ve had a history of really great guitarists in the group,” says Fredrick, “Andy did an immense job. The new songs are so dance-y.”
The album’s first single is “Whence,” about which Fredrick explains, “Keats said, ‘If poetry doesn’t come as easily as the leaves to a tree, it shouldn’t come at all. He’s being glib, I think, but ‘Whence’ is about inspiration, and how if you question it, it just might go bye-bye.”
Fans of Led Zeppelin 5 (the black watch’s 2010 album, not the non-existent Led Zeppelin record) will enjoy “Oscillating Redux,” a reworking of a haunting track from that recording. The record closes with “Satellite,” which Fredrick claims “is kind of a glorious mess. A way to end a mess of a career maybe? I can’t see recording another LP. Let it be.”
Of course, Fredrick has said this before, including during the entirety of promoting the band’s 2013 coming-out-of-retirement / going-back-into-retirement double-album, The End of When. the black watch has released several albums since.
Let it be... continuing?
On the heels of the release of The Gospel According To John on April 21st, Fredrick will follow-up four well-received novels with the release of a non-fiction title about Wes Anderson, who Fredrick previously taught a course on at The University of Southern California. Fucking Innocent: The Early Films of Wes Anderson will be released on June 13th, 2017.
“This book makes film criticism fun,” Fredrick says. “It’s very ‘Lester Bangs goes to the movies.’”
Now that Bob Dylan’s songs have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, perhaps Fredrick will be honored with a Grammy for his book. And then, maybe, Fredrick will really retire?
“I should probably go to India next. Stop reading novels and poetry, trek round and look at life,” he says. And… cue the demur. “Though everybody I know who went to India went into a closet for a month when they came back, or lost their faith in God.”
Expect another album by the black watch sooner than later, basically.
The Gospel According To John, the 15th full-length album by the black watch arrives on April 21st, 2017 preceded by the single “Whence,” streaming now.